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New Executive Director Describes An 'Uphill Battle' To Get Pittsburgh Land Bank Running Smoothly

diamonte_walker_ura.jpg
Katie Blackley
/
90.5 WESA
Diamonte Walker with the Pittsburgh Land Bank says thousands of tax delinquent properties need redress in the city.

On today's program: The Pittsburgh Land Bank’s new executive director explains how, with consistent leadership, she hopes to more effectively serve communities and reduce blight in the city; the Pirates season opens today, only filling PNC Park to 25 percent capacity; and a local residency program is trying to make the music industry more equitable for Black musicians.

The Pittsburgh Land Bank has new leadership
(0:00 — 8:05)

The Urban Redevelopment Authority’s deputy executive director Diamonte Walker will lead the Pittsburgh Land Bank, an often criticized government tool that hasn’t met benchmarks.

The Land Bank, created seven years ago to fix up, sell and get hundreds of abandoned houses and other buildings back on city tax rolls, has only acquired one abandoned property.

Last August Mayor Bill Peduto told WESA the land bank is “one of the failures of his administration.”

The URA board confirmed Walker and hired Greg Miller, a senior urban designer for New York City, as manager of the Land Bank.

“One of the things that I’ve been doing at the URA is really rethinking land recycling,” says Walker. “The URA’s a bigger redevelopment authority, it’s not a land bank, but there’s so much consanguinity and so much shared vision and mission around wanting to see an equitable land recycling strategy in the city of Pittsburgh. So we began thinking about what could be done to position the Land Bank to actually deliver the results that everybody had intended when the tool was developed.”

A land bank has some special abilities: while the City of Pittsburgh must accept the highest bid for a property, a land bank can sell the land for a lower bid but select a proposal that benefits a neighborhood. But first, those properties need to be cleared of titles from previous owners.

“We have I think 1,700 across the entire portfolio at the URA, many more at the city, ...of tax-delinquent properties that need some level of redress,” says Walker.

As of the end of 2020, the Land Bank had yet to buy, clear and sell a single property, and Walker chalks it up to the difficulty of clearing property titles.

She says the Land Bank’s board recently approved a contract to help clear titles more quickly, and it’s a priority of hers to “recycle” properties more efficiently.

Pirates home opener game is today
(8:11 — 13:32)

The Pittsburgh Pirates’ home opener this afternoon against the Chicago Cubs will be different from last year’s as well as the 2019 opener. Fans will be back in the stands today but PNC Park only accommodates 25 percent capacity. Also, pandemic safety guidelines will be in place: masks are required, tickets are digital, and all transactions are cashless.

“When we think about sports, it really is about that live entertainment experience, and not being able to provide that is a difficult challenge,” says Stephen Perkins, executive vice president of marketing and fan engagement for the Pirates. “For us, it’s about thinking about how we can extend our brand’s story and that game day experience through other channels like digital channels.”

Perkins says although there are changes, the Pirates are keeping some classic elements.

“We all know about the great Pittsburgh Pierogi race,” says Perkins. “So this year we’re actually moving it to the Clemente bridge, and we’re gonna record it live and actually air it the day after the game, and fans can go on our ballpark app and they can watch that race themselves.”

Perkins says he’s optimistic that the Pirates will increase fan capacity as more people receive the COVID-19 vaccine.

Pittsburgh music residency is supporting Black artists
(13:38 — 18:00)

A new program aims to help Black artists make Pittsburgh’s music ecosystem more equitable. 90.5 WESA’s Bill O’Driscoll reports the residency supports musicians who teach as well as create their own work.

The Confluence, where the news comes together, is 90.5 WESA’s daily news program. Tune in weekdays at 9 a.m. to hear newsmakers and innovators take an in-depth look at stories important to the Pittsburgh region. Find more episodes of The Confluence here or wherever you get your podcasts.

Kevin Gavin is the host of WESA's news interview program "The Confluence." He is a native Pittsburgher and served as news director for 90.5 WDUQ for 34 years. Since the sale of the radio station by Duquesne University to Pittsburgh EPM, Inc. (now Pittsburgh Community Broadcasting Corp.), he served as Executive Producer of Special News Projects prior to being named as host of "The Confluence" five years ago. kgavin@wesa.fm
Marylee is the editor/producer of The Confluence, the daily public affairs show on WESA. She got her start in journalism at The Daily Reveille and KLSU while attending Louisiana State University. She took her passion for audio journalism to UC Berkeley's graduate program and worked in public radio at WPR in Madison, WI, and WOSU in Columbus, Ohio.
Laura Tsutsui is a producer for The Confluence, WESA's morning news show. Previously, she reported on the San Joaquin Valley with the NPR affiliate station in her hometown of Fresno, California. She can be reached at ltsutsui@wesa.fm.
Born and raised in Pittsburgh, Isabelle is a student at George Washington University studying Political Communication. She loves all things Pittsburgh sports and serves as a sports anchor for GW-TV. In her free time, she enjoys museum hopping and walking her dog, Stevie.
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